He came back to the NHL to win a Stanley Cup. He signed with the… Los Angeles Kings. Things turned sour, to the point of being a healthy scratch before being sent home waiting for a decision. The Kings eventually waved him with the purpose of terminating his contract, which they did. The phone wasn’t ringing off the hook when Montreal Canadiens’ GM made the call. Ilya Kovalchuk had the opportunity to prove that the experience in Los Angeles was just a hiccup, that he still had some good hockey left in him. Desperate, he signed a two-way deal paying him $70,000 in the AHL and $700,000 at the… NHL level, barely over minimum wage for a NHL player.
We can imagine how the conversation went. Marc Bergevin explained that the Habs were going through a rash of injuries to players on their top-9 and that he would be given a chance not only to be part of the team, but to get ice time, quality ice time, and the opportunity to prove the Kings wrong and work for a contract next year. Few teams could have offered that kind of opportunity to Kovalchuk at this time of year. Many thought he was done. Not Bergevin. It could be desperation, the need for warm bodies in his line-up as even the Canadiens’ farm team, the Laval Rocket, were going through their own injury problems. That was the best offer out there for the former Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy winner.
Kovalchuk has dressed in 14 games now. Fans have fallen in love with him and he claims enjoying his teammates and embracing the City. The Russian sensation has managed five goals, 11 points and a differential of plus -6 since joining the Canadiens, with coach Claude Julien trusting him with an average of 19:23 minutes per game. He has two game winning goals and a shootout winner. He had three goals, nine points with a differential of minus -10 with the Kings this season.
Most Habs’ fans want him back next season. Some want the Canadiens to trade him at Trade Deadline and re-sign him this summer while others don’t want to take that risk and ask the team to offer him a contract immediately. So when John Lu of TSN asked him the question, here’s what he had to say:
A couple of weeks, he says… Trade deadline is February 24th. So he wants the Habs to wait that long before even talking and gauging if there’s mutual interest? How fair would this be to the GM who gave you this golden opportunity and a team, coach and fans who have embraced you? Call me paranoid if you must, but this is a red flag to me. Or is it really?
You see, I believe that in that phone call between Bergevin and Kovalchuk, there was an agreement in place. They probably agreed that if the team was out of contention, the Canadiens’ GM would trade him to a contender by Trade Deadline. Kovalchuk made it clear when he returned to the NHL: he wants another shot at the Stanley Cup. While the players still believe in their chances to make the playoffs this year, fact remains that the Habs are very unlikely to be in so to hold his end of the bargain, Bergevin is doing the right thing by testing the market I’m sure.
So I’m fully anticipating Kovalchuk to be gone at Trade Deadline, no matter the return for him. Fans will get upset but there’s always more to a story than what meets the eye so fans and media reactions have to be taken with a grain of salt. They THINK they know when they truly don’t… myself included.
If I were a betting man, I know where I’d put my money: he will be traded, in my humble opinion. After all, we wouldn’t want to relive a Radulov episode, would we? Go Habs Go!